Ross the revenue reformer

It’s 11:15 a.m. in Art complex room 214, and the March 22 Forum for the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society has just begun. After a short introduction, arguably the most important student on SMC’s Associated Students (AS) Board of Directors takes center stage in front of the gathered crowd of over 100 honor students and begins his speech. He begins nervously at first but soon gets into a rhythm, talking about the struggles he’s seen between SMC administrators and student representatives over the past semester. But this person is not Jesse Randel, AS Student Body President.

It’s the seemingly unassuming and always level-headed Samuel Ross, AS Director of Budget Management.

“Sometimes I see bullying behaviors where people [in administration] will prey on who they perceive as weak and they will take advantage of what they can, do what they can get away with, delay and obfuscate,” says Ross during his speech. “I think it's important to realize that we [students] are liberated of so many constraints. We can always be honest. We can say this is a problem. We don't have to beat around the bush.”

Today, Ross is delivering a speech about the struggles he’s seen with an administration that won’t let “students step up and sit at the big kids table,” as a way to compel the attending honor students to take action and join student government. For fifteen minutes he does this while still trying to remain fair, remind those listening that the administration isn’t evil, and that the best change is both incremental and civil.

It’s another step in a long project. Quietly, week after week, Sam Ross has been slowly and carefully pushing for reform all semester long. And in one of the most important and oft neglected portions of governing AS bylaws — the financial policy.

Ross, a 27 year old Mechanical Engineering Major who says he’s always had a penchant for “nerdy” things like robotics clubs and once interned for Bear Stearns, has more power as the Director of Budget Management than most would think. Because if the AS is anything, it’s a bank. A source of funding for the numerous clubs and departments on campus that have plans for various activities, parties, and events that draw from one of the largest budgets of any community college in the nation.

And Ross is, essentially, the one who holds the strings of that purse. The one who oversees the budget most directly. The seriously minded money man.

“He absolutely is better than me. I have no qualms in saying that. Everything in regards to fiscal budget — Sam is the master,” says Randel about just how invaluable Ross has been in the past year. “Sam keeps the money flowing."

For a long time though, Ross has seen a problem with the way fiscal policy works. He’s been working diligently each and every week at Wednesday morning Finance Meetings held in the Cayton Center Board Room to identify numerous problems with the rules regulating the revenue AS takes in each semester through the AS fee most students don’t even realize they don’t have to pay.

“Ultimately it has to be simple. It has to be accessible,” says Ross about how he plans to overhaul the board’s policy on money management.

He details a number of key issues he wants to see addressed and talks excitedly of how he thinks fruitful solutions may be achieved. Stuff like mandated contract stipulations to ensure that no one breaks their word, creating a budget review committee in an effort to pass on important finance knowledge from one year’s board to the next in order to create a stronger sense of institutional memory, and drafting incentives for clubs to participate in more interesting activities.

“Maybe it's just being an official for a while, but I get sick of just approving pizza over and over again. There's money here that could be used for exciting and full projects so some sort of mechanism that I think encourages that would be helpful,” says Ross before laughing.

And as for the actual proposals for funding? “The basic idea is: For big proposals, make it harder. For small proposals, make it easier,” says Ross.

It’s a process that’s taken the whole Spring Semester to research so far, and hopefully it will begin soon. Ross told The Corsair that the first special meeting to, as he says, “get into the nitty gritty” of fiscal policy is tentatively scheduled for Monday, March 28.

But for today, Ross is trying to ensure that there will be another generation to take up whatever legacy he can leave behind this year with speeches that he admits are confrontational, though he hopes will still present a fair portrait of SMC administration, knowing that they’re still people too.

Says Ross, “It's a balance to get people a little bit riled up, a little bit angry and to channel that anger into something positive, but not to be counterproductive. It needs to be, ultimately, a constructive process. We can't just be confrontational.”